Today in 1905, the Cullinan Diamond was discovered in South Africa. To celebrate the remarkable discovery, we’re looking today at the way that the Queen continues to wear the diamonds cut from the massive gemstone. From crown jewels to personal pieces, these are the Queen’s Cullinan Diamonds.
The diamond was found at the Premier No. 2 mine in Cullinan, South Africa. The superintendent of the mine, Frederick Wells, spotted the enormous stone by chance while on his rounds. Caroline de Guitaut of the Royal Collection described the moment: “So incredible was its discovery that the moment it was found at the Premier Mine it was thrown out of the window of the mine manager’s office because it was thought to be a worthless crystal.” Wells is pictured above holding the immense stone. The rough diamond measured at more than 3000 carats and weighed more than a pound. It was the biggest diamond that had ever been discovered.
South Africa was still a part of the British empire when the diamond was discovered, and the colonial government purchased it. They wanted to bestow the enormous stone on the reigning king, Edward VII. At first, he didn’t want to accept—there had also been some disagreement about whether to offer it to him in the first place—but after a bit of convincing (by a young Winston Churchill, of all people), he finally agreed to take it.
It took a bit of wrangling to get the Cullinan from Africa to London, but once it made it to British shores, it was given to Bertie on his birthday in November 1907. The diamond was sent to the Asschers in the Netherlands to be cut. After a process of eight months, they produced nine major diamonds and 96 small brilliants from the original diamond.
Here’s a look at the nine major diamonds cut from the original Cullinan stone. I’ve spiced up this old illustration of the diamond with some labels for you—you’re welcome! In the top row, you’ll see the three biggest diamonds. From left to right: the Cullinan II, the Cullinan I, and the Cullinan III. And on the bottom row are the six smaller stones: The Cullinan VIII, the Cullinan VI, the Cullinan IV, the Cullinan V, the Cullinan VII, and the Cullinan IX.
The individual diamonds had slightly different chains of ownership. (You can read more about that in this article.) Today, the Cullinan I and Cullinan II stones are part of the crown jewels, while the seven remaining diamonds are set in the Queen’s personal jewelry. While Queen Mary loved to play with the various configurations of the Cullinans, the Queen has worn them in the same way for essentially her entire reign. Below, I’ll discuss the placement of each of the stones as they’re used and worn today.
The Cullinan I
The largest of the Cullinans is the magnificent Cullinan I, which is also called “the Great Star of Africa.” The pear-shaped stone measures at an astonishing 530.2 carats. It is part of the British crown jewels, set in the Sovereign’s Sceptre. Above, the Queen holds the sceptre for a portrait taken during her coronation in June 1953.
The Cullinan II, a 317.4-carat cushion-shaped diamond, is often called “the Second Star of Africa.” Like the Cullinan I, it’s part of the British crown jewels. The diamond is set in the front of the Imperial State Crown, below the Black Prince’s Ruby. Above, the Queen wears the crown (with Queen Victoria’s Pearl Drop Earrings and her Golden Jubilee Necklace) during the State Opening of Parliament in November 2004.
The Cullinan III, a 94.4-carat pear-shaped diamond, and the Cullinan IV, a 63.6-carat cushion-shaped diamond, are set together in an impressive brooch. The Queen has jokingly called this piece “Granny’s Chips,” because she inherited it from her grandmother, Queen Mary, and the diamonds are downright enormous. Above, the Queen wears the brooch for a service celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in June 2012.
This intricate brooch features the Cullinan V, an 18.8-carat heart-shaped diamond, in its center. The Queen clearly loves this brooch, and she has worn it frequently during her entire 70 year reign. Here, she wears the jewel in October 2018 for the wedding of her granddaughter, Princess Eugenie of York, in Windsor.
The design of the Cullinan V Brooch is mimicked in the top portion of this brooch as well. The top stone in this brooch is the Cullinan VIII, a 6.8-carat cushion-cut diamond. The pendant is the Cullinan VI, an 11.5-carat marquise-cut diamond. Here, the Queen wears the brooch for a reception at Windsor Castle in April 2019.
The Cullinan VII, an 8.8-carat marquise-cut diamond, is set in the lovely negligee-style necklace from the Delhi Durbar Parure. Here, the Queen wears the necklace (with the emerald setting of the Vladimir Tiara and the scroll brooch from the Delhi Durbar parure) for a state banquet in Bangkok in October 1996.
The Cullinan IX
And finally, the Cullinan IX, a 4.4-carat pear-shaped diamond, is set in a ring. The Queen doesn’t wear the ring particularly often, and some of the best images showing her wearing it (on her right hand) come from a portrait session with the famed photographer Yousuf Karsh in 1984. She also wore the Cullinan III and IV Brooch for the same set of images.